published Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

How long can the gangs hold out?

Questions linger after Chattanooga gang leaders agree to cease-fire

Shooting calendar
Shooting calendar
Photo by Laura McNutt /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Poll
Will the gang cease-fire hold?

No blood had been shed Monday night, hours after gang leaders in Chattanooga agreed to a delicate cease-fire.

It's unclear how long the truce will last among the city's gang members.

"It's hard to say because we don't know how many folks -- how many shot callers -- were present. If it was everybody, it really is a wait and see," said Boyd Patterson, the city's gang task force coordinator.

Patterson did not attend the meeting Sunday of city gang leaders who agreed to the truce.

This month, at least 16 people have been shot and three have been killed. Many of the shootings have been gang related, according to police. Chattanooga has more than 40 documented criminal street gangs, however, only about five gangs are considered violent.

"A key thing would be who was there, what level their involvement was, and most importantly, how sick are they of the violence," Patterson said of the meeting.

Art Powell, a gang expert and consultant in Atlanta who was a gang member for 20 years, said gang truces don't happen every day.

"They're not common at all," he said. For gang leaders to even come to the table and agree for peace, he said, "It takes somebody who has a heart for their people."

A mediator must be "someone who knows both parties, and those parties have to respect that individual a great deal," he said.

The lengths of gang truces can vary.

"It's hard to say. You really, honestly, can't put a time frame on it," Powell said. "Even though the leaders have said, 'We're having a truce. We're going to respect this other side,' all it takes is one person who says, 'I ain't going for that' ... to go out and violate that truce."

Some truces last a couple of days and others extend to a couple of years, he said.

"It depends on the bond established with the leader," Powell said.

Skip Eberhardt, who runs a GED program and is known for his street credibility, attended Sunday's meeting, initiated by former gang leaders after a couple of months of planning.

Those who attended Sunday's meeting did not want to be identified out of fear of retaliation or arrest by police.

Eberhardt said leaders who did not show up at the house Sunday night were contacted Monday.

"The participation is good," he said. "I think they're off to a good start. I really do."

There will be periodic meetings and meetings called if issues arise between the gangs in hopes of keeping the peace, he said.

"I think all of them are about tired of this killing themselves," Eberhardt said.

Mayor Ron Littlefield declined to comment through his spokesman. He did not return a phone call Monday afternoon.

When Richard Beeland, Littlefield's spokesman, was asked the likelihood of the truce holding up, he responded, "I have no idea. This is why we have a gang task force and a police force. They know the issue and how best to deal with it. I don't know how fragile [the truce] is or how solid it is."

Neither Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd nor Deputy Chief Tommy Kennedy returned calls for comment Monday afternoon.

Staff writer Pam Sohn contributed to this report.

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.

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